On Monday a special service will be held to reflect on those dark days. In the final day of a five part series MARK SMITH considers the aftermath of those hellish events and the thought that the town was forgotten...
Tomorrow is the day survivors of the Clydebank Blitz will gather together and remember.
As they do every year, they will join friends and family at Dalnottar Cemetery’s memorial to the 528 people who were killed in the attack.
This year is the 70th anniversary and a good time to ask the questions that trouble many of those who survived the nights of March 13 and 14, 1941.
Was the Clydebank Blitz hushed up? Has it been forgotten compared to the attacks in Coventry and London? And did Clydebank ever really recover?
Alexander Grozier is one of the survivors who often asks those questions. Alexander, who is 76 now, only just escaped when his house was directly hit by incendiary bombs and he certainly feels that the town was abandoned after the attack.
“What happened was kept hush-hush,” he says. “The story was buried deliberately by the government. They wanted to keep it quiet because the Germans were trying to break people’s morale.”
Certainly, reporting restrictions meant the town wasn’t named in newspaper reports after the attack -- it was referred to simply as “a town in western Scotland”.
John MacLeod, the author of River of Fire: The Clydebank Blitz, believes the scale and seriousness of what happened in Clydebank was deliberately suppressed.
“There’s certainly evidence that the Government was anxious to downplay the Clydebank Blitz,” he says. “For instance, they took a long time to release official casualty figures -- and only after great pressure from local MPs in the House of Commons.”
John, who lived in Clydebank as a boy, believes there were various reasons for this, one being concern that reports of the Blitz might inflame so-called Red Clydeside.
“There does seem to have been real fear that if too much fuss were made over Clydebank, and if the scale of its devastation became widely known, it might trigger wholesale Bolshevik sedition”.
There was another reason for keeping the details out of the papers: the Government didn’t want the Germans coming back for another shot at the targets they missed.
The truth is that, in military terms, the Clydebank Blitz was a failure.
Clydebank at the time was a heaving industrial hub -- there was Beardmore’s Diesel Works and the John Brown shipyard, among others -- but the only works the Germans completely destroyed were those of the Strathclyde Hosiery Company. This meant that, after the Blitz, Clydebank could keep on working -- and it did.
Thousands may have been leaving the area after their homes were destroyed but thousands still turned up for work in the yards and plants.
It is sad that so much of this story of trauma and toil is not better known. It’s certainly well remembered in Clydebank itself -- on Monday at noon hundreds of people will observe a minute’s silence in the town’s shopping centre -- but in the official histories of the Second World War, it is the attacks on Coventry and London that are held up as examples of what Britain endured.
“The Blitz down south and the ‘Battle of London’ have become a big part of the British national myth,” says John.
“Even at the time, Churchill and the government talked the capital’s suffering up in defiant terms of ‘Britain can take it’. Millions probably aren’t aware of German bombing in any other British cities apart from London and Coventry.”
This lack of awareness saddens many of those who came through the Clydebank Blitz, but in some ways there is something that saddens them even more: the fact that even after the houses were rebuilt and some of its people came back, Clydebank was never like it was before the attack.
“Clydebank was a community,” says Alexander and he describes the crowds and buzz round the John Brown shipyard. “When the yard first opened a lot of people came to Clydebank.”
But then the Blitz happened and many of those people left -- 40,000 in fact, and most within 48 hours. “Only a few of them ever came back. Clydebank was never the same again.”
John MacLeod says the problem was the centre of the town had been devastated.
“Its business heart -- the town centre had a lot of nice shops and a sense of community -- was quite ruined.”
John says the other problem is that the town was never properly rebuilt.
“Even from the air or the railway, to this day, you can see how incoherent and bitty a town it is,” he says. “It’s not the same town.
“With hundreds of folk dead, hundreds more maimed and only a half-dozen homes or so undamaged, it was never going to be the same town again.”
River of Fire: The Clydebank Blitz, £16.99. Untold Stories: Remembering Clydebank in Wartime, in which survivors tell their stories, is available for sale at Clydebank Library.